IF YOU LIVE near one of the streams that feeds into the West River or the South River, you just might see a few people this spring mucking about in hip waders with nets, buckets and clipboards. These "stream waders," as the Department of Natural Resources has dubbed them, are volunteers who collect samples of insects and other invertebrates from freshwater streams all over Maryland.
And they will wield their nets Saturday at a stream in Prince George's County as the DNR starts training for the 2002 Stream Waders Program. The West and South rivers will be among the sampling areas discussed at the training session.
Last year, Celere Leonard of Annapolis liked traipsing around local streams scooping up bugs and mud so much that she's coming back this year to do it again.
"I actually enjoyed doing it," she said. Leonard has a biology degree and works for the nonprofit Chesapeake Research Consortium, but she said she learned a lot from the experience.
"It was interesting to see that different insects showed up in different streams," she said. "We found different ones in undisturbed streams than we found in disturbed ones."
That's the kind of information the program is designed to uncover. According to program coordinator Dan Boward, the data from these surveys help with water quality assessments and supplement other research on the health of the watershed.
Mostly, the invertebrates they find tend to be larval insects, but the volunteers sometimes find clams and crayfish. The volunteers preserve samples in buckets of alcohol and then deliver them to the DNR for identification.
"But it's not just a data collection program," Boward said. "We feel it's important in educating people about streams and getting them out in the field where they can get in touch with their local streams."
Boward said many volunteers gain a new perspective on their surroundings. "We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who say, 'Oh wow, I had no idea my stream was like that.'"
Leonard, who is a recent transplant from Sacramento, Calif., said the program helped her get to know the area.
"I enjoyed the fact that we were outside because I do a lot of inside work," she said. "I'm also new to the area, so I got to see some of the landscape around the area."
Cel Petro, a Galesville resident for 25 years, is familiar with the local environment, but as the director for DNR's Carter Library, she looks forward to bringing her work home. She volunteered for the program this year and sent out an e-mail announcing it to her neighbors.
"I like to get wet, and I'm always looking for ways to combine my professional life at DNR with my personal interests - in this case, the river and entire watershed," Petro said. She's expecting at least three of her neighbors to become stream waders.
One of them, Carole Bolsey, said she relishes the idea of wading through the shallows and getting to know the waterways.
"They're beautiful," she said, "There's fabulous bird-watching and water-watching. When you're wading, you can really see what and who is living there up close."
Bolsey was active in waterway preservation and land-use issues when she lived in Massachusetts, and said she thinks it's important to get to know the watershed and things affecting it.
A goal of the program is to help people living around the watershed to understand the relationship between land use and water quality, and Bolsey seems ready for the lessons.
"Sprawl and development, which is not mindful of watersheds, is ongoing here as well," she said. "And I really don't want to let my own ignorance be the cause of further damage."
Petro said, "It's a great opportunity to learn more and contribute at the same time."
Volunteers must spend one day at a training program, learning about the project and how to take samples. Then they collect about five samples from four different areas. The work can be done any time from March 1 through April 30.
Information: 1-877-620-8DNR or www.dnr.state.md.us/streams/mbss/mbss_vo lun.html.